Common sense from former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus's chief economist. (It's especially interesting to read comments following her article by Joe Sixpack deploying "intuition" and right wing "boondoggle" talking points against an MIT-trained economist. What's that you say, Mr. Sixpack; Freeways and highways are not subsidized?!?!)
Following an excerpt from the BizTimes column, I've posted a comment by Gateway to Milwaukee's Tom Rave in full.
All too often, leaders of established businesses act like horses pulling carriages in New York City’s Central Park, wearing blinders to avoid distractions. Which brings me, a political independent, to the narrow thinking of Wisconsin’s Republican Gubernatorial candidates on high-speed rail transit connecting Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago and, eventually, Minneapolis, St. Paul. The two candidates are loudly against the investment at the federal and state levels, while their Democratic opponent favors this investment.
The Republican candidates, along with other opponents of high-speed rail, argue that no Wisconsinite is going to take the train to go see his mother or make a client visit in another city, because cars are faster and more convenient. As a result, the trains will be a financial disaster. These critics are thinking about the future with eyes on past and current behavior. They are judging the behavior of the current workforce, not thinking about those who elected to not to live in Wisconsin or how our workforce will change as the baby boom cohort retires.
As a result, critics are missing the entire argument for why trains are essential to Wisconsin’s future.
Wake up Scott Walker and Mark Neumann. Beyond the close to $1 billion of needed economic stimulus, the trains will make our two largest metro areas a more attractive location to live, work, and play, drawing outsiders to our region and slowing if not reversing the “brain drain” that is worrying the majority of people in the state.
Comment by Tom Rave, Executive Director of Gateway to Milwaukee:
It is true that the Midwest Rail System, of which the Milwaukee to Madison expansion is a part, will not be "world class" high speed. That would be much more expensive, such as the system authrorized by the voters in California, for example. Yet Amtrak between Milwaukee and Chicago is not "high speed" but is being chosen by more and more riders, even without high gasoline prices currently. Plans for the Midwest Rail System do call for higher speeds than the current ones.
Instead of focusing just on Milwaukee to Madison, as Kay Plantes suggests we need to look at the longer-term bigger picture about Wisconsin being competitive.
Here's an interesting anecdote. A local entrepreneur had a business plan and a need for $5 million in capital. Potential investors from Seattle were very interested, willing to invest $2.5 million and paid for research on greater Milwaukee. Their strong preference was to start the company in Chicago, possibly start it in Madison, but they had no interest in Milwaukee. The plan called for hiring 60 young IT and creative design professionals in 120 days and they did not want to take the risk of doing so in Milwaukee. A primary reason was the concern about transportation for these young people - generations X & Y - around Milwaukee and even between Chicago and Milwaukee (the KRM would have been a solution). So the business ultimately started in Chicago - 200 feet from a train station.
The basic point is that because southeast Wisconsin is inadequate in its overall transportation structure versus other metropolitan areas, the start-up capital and the jobs went somewhere else.
It is interesting to see that the mayor of St. Paul, MN, a commissioner of Ramsey County, a mayor of an eastern suburb of the Twin Cities, a MN state legislator, the MN DOT and others are collaborating to do a study, funded by $1.4 million of federal funds, to decide what is the optimal combination of transportation modes along the I-94 corridor between the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, which is where they anticipate that the Midwest Rail System will run. The Twin Cities is growing, in spite of also having high taxes - we are not. But they are also taking a collaborative approach in looking at the future.
In looking at Wisconsin, we need to develop a collaborative plan about future transportation needs so that we will be economically competitive. Otherwise we will just continue to have disparate and emotion-filled arguments about different and uncoordinated alternatives as we do now, where decisions seem to be arbitrarily and independently made. By that I'm referring to the current unconnected discussions the Midwest Rail expansion, the downtown Milwaukee streetcar, the shrinking Mke Co Transit System and the foundering Southeast Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority. A strong collaboration of business, government and political leadership with a shared vision toward a long-term goal of economic competitiveness are needed.
Is there an opportunity for those running for office?
Read the rest at: Wake up to the economic benefits of high-speed rail - BizTimes